This weekend I completed my 10th marathon/ultra marathon in Lake Okoboji in Nebraska . That makes nine states in my quest to join the 50 state club, which requires you to run a marathon in each state. I picked this goal mostly because it gives me a good excuse to travel around to some places I probably wouldn't have otherwise seen and it also helps keep me motivated with running. Eventually I'd also like to run a marathon on each of the continents, although this would mean running in the North Pole Marathon which seems a little crazy even to me. Here are some highlights from this Iowa road trip and marathon:
- We ain't in Chicago anymore... - When I ran the Chicago marathon a few years back there were 40,000 runners. It was a little claustrophobic in the beginning (it took almost 10 minutes to cross the starting line after the gun went off), but it was thrilling to have so many spectators cheering along the way. By contrast, there were less than one hundred people running the in this marathon. The mile markers were done in chalk on the street, there was no post race food, and the majority of spectators along the way were simply in the process of getting their morning newspaper or trying not to kill us as they drove by (no streets were closed). Nevertheless, they had plenty of water stops and someone actually announced your name and where you were from as you crossed the finish line. I wouldn't recommend it for a first time marathoner, but I still enjoyed it.
- An Oasis in the Middle of Cornfield Land - We saw nothing but corn fields for the last two hours of driving, so I was pleasantly surprised when we entered the town that hosted the marathon and saw a beautiful blue lake with lots of boats that was surrounded by expensive looking houses and quaint shops. I'll definitely consider this as a destination for my next mini vacation.
- Perfect Weather - It was 60 degrees with a cool breeze at 6:00 AM when we started, which is quite unexpected for a July marathon in the Midwest. Running a marathon in summer heat can be brutal, which is why most marathons are in the spring or fall (even then it is a crap shoot...I ran one in Kansas City a few years ago in late September where it was over ninety degrees). This is why the weather seemed to be a favorite topic of conversation among the runners.
- Negative Split - I finished in just under four hours, which overall wasn't a great time for me, but I was nevertheless very excited because this was the first time I ever ran a negative split. This means that I ran the second 13 miles faster than the first 13 miles (an average of 2 minutes faster per mile which is a big difference in pace). I've had a history of bonking at around mile 20, so it was very invigorating to finish with a bounce in my step and be zipping past other people during the last six miles. This was partly possible because I ran with a group of friends who weren't in a hurry until about the halfway point when I got antsy. I also attribute my strong finish to a little bag of salt that I carried with me and dug into a few times after mile 16. I think that helped counter balance the electrolyte imbalance I usually fall victim to late in the race.
- Peanut Butter & Jelly and Pizza Bagels - Since running 26 miles can often anger your digestive system, it is usually inadvisable to deviate from your normal eating routine before the race. However, this time the only thing we could scrounge up for breakfast were bagels with peanut butter and jelly, which turned out to be a surprisingly tastey and energizing combination. The real food star, however, was the pepperoni pizza bagel after the race. My normal ravenous post-race hunger was exacerbated by the fact that there was no food at the finish line like there has been at every other race I've run. Luckily, someone from our group had some cash and we were near a bagel shop. Nobody could think of a single super model/lingerie combination that we would have traded for that pepperoni pizza bagel at that moment. I think I may have actually growled while eating it.
- The Helpful German Dominatrix - For the first hour of the road trip, we were all totally enamored with the Garmin GPS device that we programmed to speak to us in a rather firm female German voice and that we soon dubbed 'the Dominatrix'. In all seriousness, I totally want one of these devices. I have the worst sense of direction of anyone I've ever met and I'm surprised that I haven't been mandated by the state yet to get one permanently implanted on my body somewhere.
- Funky smells - Although much of the run was within view of a beautiful lake, we did put quite a few miles in on some country roads that were surrounded by farms and reeked of cow manure. Believe me, the last thing you want to smell when you are gasping for air is cow manure. Even worse was the smell on the bus that shuttled all the sweat-encrusted, odiferous finishers back back to the starting line where everybody's cars were parked. I fear my nose may never fully recover.
- A Nearly Fatal Ill-Timed Joke - Three of us were waiting just around the corner from the finish line for the last two to finish. They arrived later than we expected and I noticed right away that one of them was not a happy camper. Our running companion next to me apparently did not notice this, because she jokingly cheered them on by saying "only two more miles". I almost dived for cover as I anticipated the violence that surely would have ensued if the poor beleaguered runners weren't so exhausted. Whew...close one.
Mostly, I knew it was a good race because JR and I were already looking at maps and trying to strategically pick our next marathon within a few hours of finishing the race. Usually it takes us several days to block out the grueling experience enough to openly admit to wanting to do another one.